This might be the best ice cream in Brooklyn, or at least in Cobble Hill; impressive considering I assumed Karloff was a standard sit-down restaurant and not an ice cream parlor. It is, in fact, both, plus a coffee shop to boot. Walk in during the day and serious-looking Brooklynites will be tapping away on their laptops. At night, dinner conversation replaces the silence of the diligent freelancers as people tuck into plates of hearty Eastern European fare.
Despite its culinary focus, Karloff could easily pass as the latest farm-to-table contemporary American joint thanks to its decor, a folksy medley of wagon wheels and rustic wood. The gargantuan chalkboard in front is cute until you realize it's the only menu available to you; my apologies to the woman my group had to crowd around in order to read it. No matter what you choose, it won't take too much of a bite out of your wallet as almost everything costs less than $10.
I started with the vareniki, Russian dumplings very similar to pierogies. Their skins were supple and obviously made fresh. The filling, a mixture of pork and chicken, had a gentle meatiness to it, given some subtle tang and sweetness by a dollop of sour cream and strands of caramelized onion. Good luck finding a turkey sandwich as good as Karloff's in your local bodega. Here they take thick slices of honey maple turkey and slather them in mayo and some seriously spicy mustard, then top it all with greens and grilled onions. The beef stew is, not surprisingly, extremely hearty, a comforting blend of thick chunks of beef mixed with Russian kasha. The only serious disappointment was the borscht. It was unforgivably thin, a big bowl of beet-flavored water with a few chunks of vegetables floating around. Aside from that small blemish, everything on the menu is quite satisfying, especially considering the price.
Now, back to the ice cream. It's sourced from Jane's Ice Cream in the Hudson Valley. Produced in small batches using local, organic ingredients, it is delightfully creamy, with subtle flavors that don't hit you over the head with their intensity. The lavender was particularly good, soft with a lingering sweetness, as was a scoop of ice cream packed with pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds. Pair it with hot coffee from Queens-based Dallis Coffee and you've got the perfect midday snack or dessert after dinner. Karloff doesn't have the flair to draw people in from other boroughs but for locals it's a godsend, a jack-of-all-trades that works splendidly as a restaurant, ice cream parlor and coffee shop.
Photos by Ashley Minette